Responding to a 10-33

After visiting various other police-related sites, it seems the 10-Code system used by police agencies varies depending on geographical area.  For the most part, the Vancouver Police Department loosely follows the list on Wikipedia, and following are some of our most common 10-Codes:


  • 10-4   – Affirmative/Understood/Everything is good
  • 10-6   – Busy
  • 10-7   – Out Of Service
  • 10-9   – Repeat Last Transmission
  • 10-10 – Negative
  • 10-23 – Arrived at Location
  • 10-33 – Officer Needs Help 


Of all of these, 10-33 is the least used, but it’s on the list because it is the most important.  Over my career, I’ve responded to a few 10-33 calls, and let me tell you – nothing gets your attention faster than hearing an officer call “10-33” over the radio. 

When an officer calls for a cover unit, the tone and pitch of the officers voice dictates how other units respond to the request.  If the officer is calm in asking for a cover unit and there is no background noise, the closest unit(s) to their location will respond.  However, if the officer is yelling, or there are sounds of a struggle, then it’s almost a guarantee that the entire district responds. Quickly.  As in breaking land-speed records quick. 

What’s even more stressful is hearing an officer, who normally is calm and collected on the radio, call “10-33” in a voice totally unlike their own.  Much of the time, an officer will not use the actual 10-Code, and will simply blurt out they need “Cover.”

One such time, early in my career, found my partner and I cruising the Downtown Eastside in the pre-dawn hours.  A squad mate was at the other end of the district dealing with a suspected impaired driver.  We knew where he was, and he earlier radioed in that everything was “10-4”.  Then, out of nowhere, this officer came on the radio, and it was instantly clear he was in a struggle.  All he managed to say was, “Cover!” and then his radio cut out.  Of all the times hearing this officer on the radio, we had never heard his voice raised in excitement, so we knew this was the real thing.

Well, like I said, we were at the other end of the district along with the rest of the patrol cars in the area.  If anyone had been out walking they would have known something bad was happening when three police cars blasted eastbound at the speed of light.  Somehow, another unit got to the scene just before we did and had managed to subdue the suspect – they were all tussled up on the sidewalk and the cuffs were just going on the bad guy.  It was where the officer was that stopped my heart.

He was lying on his back in the middle of the road, nothing moving except for the incredible grimace of pain on his face.  My first thought was that he had been shot or stabbed; it wasn’t until I looked down at his leg and saw his foot was turned at an unnatural angle did I realize that yes, he had every right to be in pain.  Broken ankles will do that to a person.

By the end of it, the officer was whisked away in an ambulance and the bad guy was whisked away to the jail in the police wagon.  We were left to try and figure out what had happened.  Eventually, after talking to the officer, we found out the suspect, upon being served a 24 hour drivers licence prohibition, had freaked out and tried to get his car keys back from the officer.  Not a good idea.  A grappling match ensued.  During the struggle for the keys, the officer lost his footing on the curb, snapping his ankle and throwing both of them to the ground.  The officer had called for cover while hanging onto the bad guy and while trying not to pass out from the pain. 

This was my first experience of responding to a “10-33” where an officer was injured.  Usually, after a call for cover, we come out on top and everyone’s okay, including the bad guy.  Everyone gets to go home, and the bad guy usually goes to jail.  All is good.

So the next time you see a police car, or an ambulance, or a fire truck driving with lights and sirens, I beseech you, the public, to please pull over to the side of the road and allow us passage.  Our lives, and your safety, depend on it.

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